Caraval by Stephanie Garber is an entrancing whirlwind of rich imagery, enticing romance, and a darkly magical realm of fantasy. The book follows Scarlett Dragna as she’s drawn into the mesmerizing world of Caraval, the legendary annual performance where the audience must compete to win a coveted prize. Caraval’s mastermind creator, a mysterious figure known as Legend, has invited Scarlett to participate in this year’s game– but nothing is as it seems, and Scarlett soon finds herself immersed within a maze of treachery and illusions, desperately trying to sort out the truth from the elaborate fantasies Caraval’s performers create. Scarlett knows that Caraval is only a game– but the consequences seem all too real as she discovers that this performance revolves around her beloved sister, Tella. The only way out is to win the game– and the only way to win is to find her sister before their time runs out.
Caraval is the first in a trilogy following Scarlett and Tella Dragna’s journey within Legend’s games and focuses on the sisters’ fight for each other and those they love. The book does a beautiful job of blurring the lines between fantasy and reality so that even the reader is kept constantly guessing at what is real inside Caraval and what is only an illusion. Mysteries abound within the sisters’ search for the truth, and no one is ever as they initially appear– much as I tried to figure out the ending, there were so many details that surprised me again and again. The theme of fighting for your family never fades, and the bond between Scarlett and Tella is a strong focal point that the series rests on. However, there’s plenty of romance to be found as well, and it all adds to the richness of the story the trilogy spins.
This book never ceases to entertain or entrance. The plot flows smoothly and the writing style does a fantastic job of painting gorgeous pictures of the world of Caraval. The descriptions are darkly lush and vivid, and I would recommend this book on the merit of its imagery alone. Thus said, the world is a feast for the imagination, and there’s always another detail to marvel over, whether it be part of the scenery, a character, or aspect of the plot.
Caraval‘s heroine, Scarlett, is driven mainly by her love for her sister. She’s an interesting and slightly unusual character to follow as she is entranced by the magic of Caraval but ultimately just wants a life where she and her sister can be safe and taken care of. Her journey through Caraval helps Scarlett become a little more free as she is released from the confines of her earlier life spent under her abusive father’s control. Her journey is definitely one of self-discovery, and I loved how this theme was woven into the others.
Caraval is a captivating read, and its story of magic, mystery, love, and illusion is one I’d highly recommend.